Guest Commentary: Be aware of prescription drugs’ effects before driving

Drugged driving can be deadly.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, out of the 12,055 drivers who died in car accidents in the U.S. who were tested for drugs, one-third tested positive for drugs.  What is a drug?  A drug is any substance when taken into the human body impairs the person's ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.  This includes alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription drugs.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration National Roadside Survey, more than 16 percent of weekend nighttime driver tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medications.  These statistics are indications that continuing education, prevention, and law enforcement efforts are needed from public safety.

In the past two decades drunk-driving deaths plummeted from 30,000 a year to 15,000.  In large part to stricter laws, organization support such as MADD, education and social stigma with an arrest.  Lack of education is a large part of prescription drug abuse and DUI's.

Your ability to drive can be affected by prescription drugs or over the counter medications purchased at a pharmacy.  These medications include minor tranquilizers, antihistamines, and antidepressants.  Prescription medication is more likely to affect your driving abilities within the first two weeks.  Many times you are not able to predict how medication will affect you until a situation arises where you have to respond quickly to avoid a crash.  Dentist, doctors, and pharmacists need to tell their clients of any risks associated with ay medication they provide.  Driving while on prescription drugs be dangerous for yourself and the public.  If the drugs cause impairment it is against the law.  Here are some safety tips when mixing medication with driving.

  •  If you have to take medication that affects your driving, plan ahead.  Ask a friend to drive, or take a taxi or public transport.
  •  If you are concerned about your ability to drive safely, do not stop taking your medication.  Stop driving, and discuss our concerns with your doctor or pharmacist.  There could be another medication you can take that will not affect your driving ability.
  •  Always ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects of medications that you have been prescribed, particularly whether they are safe to take when driving.
  • Always tell your healthcare provider about any other drugs (including prescribed, over-the-counter, herbal and illicit drugs) that you are taking, as these may interact with your medications and affect your ability to drive.
  •  Do not use other drugs like alcohol or marijuana with your medication, they could increase the effects.  Talk with your health care provider about the effects of alcohol on the medications that you are taking.
  •  When taking over-the-counter medications such as cold and flu preparations, it is important that you take the medication as directed; some of these may impair driving ability.  Talk to your pharmacist.

The International Council on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety provided some comparisons between impairment caused by blood alcohol levels and common medications that would cause equal impairment.  These are guidelines and a request for consultation by a health care provider is recommended when using medication and driving.

Drug Class Generic Name Estimated BAC Equivalent

Antihistamines Chlorpheniramine

(an antihistamine that reduces the

natural chemical histamine in the body). .08%


(used to treat allergy symptoms,

nausea and vomiting after surgery

and to prevent motion sickness.) .08%

Antidepressants Sertaline

(an antidepressant in a group of drugs

Antidepressants called selective serotonin

reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).) .05-.08%

Escitalopram (an antidepressant in a

group of Drugs called selective serotonin

reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).) .0-.08%

Amitryptiline (a tricyclic antidepressant) .08%

Doxepin (a tricyclic antidepressant) .08%

Hypnotics Temazepam (in a group of drugs called

Benzodiazepines) .08%

Nitrazepam (belongs to a group of

medicines called Benzodiazepines) .08%

Diazepam (in a group of drugs called

Benzodiazepines) .08%

Oxazepam (in a group of drugs called

Benzodiazepines) .08%

Tranquilizers Olanzapine (an antipsychotic medication that affects 0.08% chemicals in the brain.) .08%

Haloperidol (an antipsychotic medication) .08%

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